Government officials from countries at different stages of development today began a three-day meeting in UNCTAD to analyse the impact of the Uruguay Round Agreements on development and to enhance countries´ capacities for participating in the multilateral trading system. This is the first meeting of the Commission on Trade in Goods and Services, and Commodities since the intergovernmental restructuring of UNCTAD.
Upon his election as President, Ambassador Daniel Bernard of France stressed that this meeting was an important Commission event in the follow-up to UNCTAD IX held in South Africa last May. He said it should show the effectiveness of the new intergovernmental set-up at UNCTAD by providing practical and operative solutions with a direct impact on important problems in the area of trade and development.
In an introductory statement, Mr. Carlos Fortin, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD, highlighted the close cooperation that had developed between UNCTAD and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as regards both the intergovernmental machinery and the secretariat. A further example of this cooperation was the participation of the chairman of the WTO Committee on Trade and Economic Development, Ambassador Nacer Benjelloun-Touimi of Morocco, in the current meeting.
Presenting a document prepared for the Commission by the UNCTAD secretariat (TD/B/COM.1/2 and Add.1), Mr. Fortin stressed the importance for development of the effective integration of developing countries into the multilateral trading system and the need for international support in this respect. "By effective integration", he explained, "we mean not only that a country can effectively identify and exploit its trading opportunities, which in turn requires many developing countries, in particular the least developed among them (LDCs), to improve their supply capabilities; but also that it can accede to the WTO and conform to the trade obligations thereby placed on it, formulate and pursue development strategies within the framework of multilateral trade obligations, defend its acquired trade rights, and define and pursue its interests in trade negotiations."
In a context in which many countries are nowadays pursuing export-oriented development policies, UNCTAD believes it is necessary to give a more solid analytical underpinning to assertions about the developmental impact of further trade liberalization. Empirical evidence to this effect is also needed. Mr. Fortin expressed the hope that the Commission´s meeting would provide member States with a clearer idea of the complex relationship between globalization, development and the international trading system. A firmer basis upon which both national and multilateral trade policies could be built, would thus be laid.
Highlights of statements
On behalf of the Asian Group and China, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, stressed the importance of the meeting in view of the forthcoming Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Singapore. Pleading for an equitable multilateral trading regime, Mr. Akram called on the international community not to add yet another example to a history replete with international arrangements that had failed because they could not provide all participants with a shared sense of benefits. The Commission should agree on a set of action-oriented conclusions, based on an objective analysis of the effects of the Uruguay Round. He cited the need to appreciate the flaws inherent in the Uruguay Round Agreements and the unsatisfactory process of implementation of these Agreements, both of which impacted negatively on development, and reiterated the importance for development of the global economic environment. Those factors called for a continuing analysis and the identification of remedial actions. UNCTAD´s capacity in this regard, including that of recommending policy options for developing countries, should be strengthened. "Joint studies with other organisations can be useful", Mr. Akram stated, "but not if these shy away from pursuing awkward lines of inquiry and for stating uncomfortable truths."
Mr. Lahcen Aboutahir (Morocco), on behalf of the African Group, considered that the secretariat´s document had focussed too heavily on internal parameters in developing countries, without adequately mentioning external constraints and measures to be taken at the international level. Insufficient attention had been paid to the problems of commodity-dependent countries. Sixty-five percent of the active population in Africa was employed in the commodity sector; horizontal and vertical diversification was therefore a prerequisite for the development of the region. He called for the urgent and complete implementation of the Uruguay Round Agreements, including the previously agreed measures for alleviating possible negative effects on developing countries. It was crucial that a balance be reached in current and future trade negotiations between the rights and obligations negotiated within the WTO, as well as between the commercial interests of big trading nations and the development needs of the developing countries, he said.
Mr. Javier A. Bonagas D. (Panama), on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, expressed the hope that next month´s Singapore Conference would help to improve market access conditions, to enhance the positive effects of the new international trading system for the developing countries, and avoid the marginalization some of them faced. He stressed the importance for developing countries of having a greater commercial participation in the agricultural and textile sectors. For Mr. Bonagas, it was unlikely that the developing countries would maintain a renewed interest in strengthening international trade disciplines or in extending multilateral negotiations to new issues if such negotiations did not provide concrete and tangible results in the short term and represented merely promises of economic benefits in a remote future.
Mr. Richard Wyatt of the European Commission, speaking on behalf of the European Community, thought that, while generally balanced, the secretariat´s document should have mentioned more clearly the dynamic effects of the Uruguay Round. While it was true that on paper some of the Round´s effects would not begin to be seen for many years, the guarantee of a more secure trading framework in the future could induce higher trade flows today as operators began to position themselves for future development. Furthermore, comments on the negative effects of the continuation of tariff escalation were in some measure contradicted by the existence of preferential margins in relation to the tariff levels. Attention should be paid to remaining high levels of protection in many developing countries, he argued, given that these countries were important and rapidly growing markets for developing country exports. The European Community added that future analytical work of UNCTAD on market access should focus more on the situation of the LDCs. These countries should be give priority attention also in the provision of technical assistance.
Mr. Serguei Ivanov (Russian Federation) stressed that the concerns of the economies- in-transition should be given due attention in UNCTAD´s analytical and technical work on the possibilities for all countries to benefit equally from the Uruguay Round Agreements. He suggested that the analysis should focus on specific countries, as well as actual not just potential effects of the Agreements, including as regards the current stage of their implementation. Mr. Antonio Ernesto Marziota Delgado (Cuba), while recognizing the advantages of the Uruguay Round Agreements, added that in reality the developing countries had not recovered from the sacrifices that were involved in the negotiations which led to the establishment of the WTO.
The Commission will continue its discussions in an informal setting, in line with the new style at UNCTAD, shying away from long formal statements and encouraging greater genuine dialogue.
The Commission elected five Vice-Presidents: Ambassador Eumelio Caballero Rodrìguez of Cuba, Ambassador Agus Tarmidzi of Indonesia, Mrs. Raflat Mrabet (Tunisia), Mr. John Rosenbaum (United States of America) and Mr. Adam Qrzechowsky (Poland). Mr. Sek Wannamethee (Thailand) was elected Rapporteur.